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The Trump presidency: roundtable talk at U of T's Munk School of Global Affairs

Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama and incoming President Donald Trump speak during the inauguration ceremony (photo by Drew Angerer via Getty)

What can we expect from Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States?

This week, five experts based in Paris and Toronto shared their thoughts on the U.S. election results and talked about what’s to come under a Trump presidency during a roundtable discussion organized by the Centre for the Study of the United States (CSUS), located at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, and France's Sciences Po.

For Ronald Pruessen, a professor of history at U of T, the outcome of the 2016 election showed how “dysfunctional” the U.S. political system has become. From his perspective, the real question is whether such a system will be able to restrain the president’s actions, given the Republicans’ complete control over all three branches of government.

Mario Del Pero, professor of international history at Sciences Po, noted that the election results were proof of the disturbing degradation of political discourses and the lack of faith among American voters.

“Trump is the product of a growing disenchantment with discredited politics,” he said.

Clifford Orwin, professor of political science, classics and Jewish studies at U of T, agreed. 

“This might be precisely the reason why Trump triumphed: he was more attuned to the electorate, and in this sense, he compelled political parties to renew themselves – particularly the Democratic Party after it lost,” Orwin said.

Former Tennessee Congressman Bart Gordon insisted that economic fears stemming from the recession led to voter confidence in Trump.

“The fact that 1 per cent still has the money, and banks have been saved despite their own failures created the impression that the system is rigged and that there is an urgent need for change,” Gordon said.

Trump embodied change for many American voters, Pruessen said.

“Coping with the feeling that you’ve lost something, that you’re getting weaker and you need to change, is something that’s hard to swallow for American voters,” he added. 

But how will Trump's campaign translate into policy?

He might be able to deliver with regards to infrastructure, suggested James Kent Syler, assistant professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University.

“Trump has credibility when it comes to building things, ” Syler said. “It remains to be seen whether he will be able to provide massive investments in infrastructure as he promised, all the while cutting taxes.”

On the foreign policy front, there are many challenges awaiting Trump.

Del Pero thinks the biggest challenge for the Trump administration will be how to deal with China.

“The relationship between the United States and China is intense, contradictory and immensely fragile,” Del Pero said. “There are multiple forms of interdependence today. It’s not a zero-sum game.”

Will Trump make good on his more unorthodox campaign promises? Citing a recent article in The Atlantic, Gordon urged the audience to understand Trump at a symbolic level not literally.

“When Trump promises to bomb the hell out of ISIS or to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, we shouldn’t necessarily take his rhetoric at face value,” Gordon said.